Decline in foreign graduate students in the U.S.
Over on Left2Right, Stephen Darwall discusses the decline in foreign applicants to U.S. graduate schools as part of the decline of U.S. dominance in postgraduate education, due to both post-9/11 visa restrictions and increasing competitiveness of non-U.S. graduate schools, such as in the UK, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, China, etc.
He's largely right, but I would caution against inferring too much from data on applications. Most U.S. graduate schools, at least in the sciences, get a huge number of international applicants for each available spot (i.e., hundreds). (Graduate school admissions websites usually say something like "funding is extremely limited for international students, but we have a few places for very exceptional students.") Even reducing the number of applicants by 50% would probably not affect the ability of U.S. graduate schools to get foreign students. The same goes for data on the declining number of people taking the Graduate Record Exam in China and India (the GRE is the graduate school equivalent of the SAT).
(This explains why Stephen Darwall's analogy between a 28% decline in foreign applications and a 28% decline in demand for American cars is not quite right: there is a fixed supply of spots for foreign students in U.S. graduate programs, but a non-fixed supply of American cars.)
Of course, if there are fewer applicants, it is likely that U.S. graduate schools won't be able to pick the cream of the crop. Still, using crude measures like average GRE and TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) test scores, it appears that average quality of international applicants is not declining.
Declining enrollments of foreign students is the key statistic. And foreign enrollment in U.S. graduate schools is declining - about 6% down from last year. But this is not as drastic a drop as the 28% decline in applicants (on top of a 34% decline the previous year), so it's not quite as disastrous as it sounds.
I don't mean to imply that the decline in international students studying in the U.S. is somehow illusory - it's real. And it's a problem (but a complicated one), connected (in a complicated way) with the decline of American dominance in science. But the sky isn't falling -- yet.